After his disappointing Tour de France, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) has bounced back with a vengeance in the Vuelta a España, dropping all his GC rivals on the Alto de la Camperona to clinch the overall lead in the Spanish Grand Tour.
It was the second time Quintana has worn the red jersey of Vuelta leader. In 2014 he followed the right wheels in a small bunch sprint to the ski station of Valdelinares and moved into the race lead, but then crashed out the following day. This time around Quintana's assault on la roja looked to be much more determined.
First Movistar cranked up the pace on the lower slopes of the Alto de la Camperona. Then with three kilometres to go, Quintana responded well to a move by Chris Froome (Team Sky), before blasting away himself, shedding both Froome and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) in the process.
Twelfth at the finish, Quintana gained 25 seconds on Contador and 33 on Froome, enough to put him into the overall lead by 19 seconds on teammate Alejandro Valverde and with 27 seconds on Froome. Former leader Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing Team) meanwhile, slumped to sixth place, 1:36 down.
Quintana not only has the overall lead, but in a very good day for Movistar, Valverde crossed the line in the same time as Froome and remains in second overall, as well as holding the lead in the 'combined' classification as well.
After a Tour where Quintana seemed a shadow of his former climbing self, the 2014 Giro d'Italia winner is now in control of the Vuelta and back to his best. And to judge by his tough-talking tone in the press conference, the Colombian has no intention of shedding the lead, either.
"I hope to defend this maillot all the way to the finish in Madrid," Quintana said categorically but with his habitual calm, "there's a long way to go, and in the short-term we've got two very difficult stages. But with the team we have, hopefully we can defend it well."
"I suffered a lot on this climb, but the objective was the lead today and to get some time on my rivals. Now, we'll try to defend it."
Quintana said that Movistar had tried to anticipate Froome's familiar policy of fading slightly in the first part of the climb and then coming back strongly in the second half, and that he had started the steepest, crucial, part of the eight kilometre ascent to the Alto de la Camperona more cautiously than usual.
"I was waiting and waiting for Froome to attack, and then when he did, I could respond. I was always keen to do something here, and I knew I was a bit stronger than before."
As for the idea that it could be too soon in the Vuelta to take the lead, Quintana was equally bullish in his response. "I have always come to the Vuelta with a good level, but I've never been able to reap the full reward. It's never too early to take the lead, it's always better to be ahead."
"The race has really started now, even though we've used up a lot of energy in this difficult first week in Galicia. For the moment, we're going to defend the lead."
Valverde was equally pleased, and given this is his third Grand Tour of 2016, it's hard not to see why.
"Froome did well, he did what he had to do, but Nairo did better," was Valverde's succinct analysis.
"As for Alberto, he never gives up, and I never thought the Vuelta was finished for him."
"And I'm still there, I'm keen not to lose my top spot overall, but if I've got to work for Nairo, then I will do that."
Asked if he could gain more time on his rivals on the much longer ascent to Covadonga, Quintana was not willing to give his game away.
"Perhaps. Every stage can be decisive," he argued in his typically cryptic style. But for now when it comes to the set piece mountain stages, round one has gone the Colombian's way.
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